Designing ideas for a film
A Spirit Quest
Early in the development of the project, I went on a spirit quest in order to realise what kind of film I wanted to make. I found that travel and exploration was a vital aspect of the project for me. The film itself would represent a journey in some way. Even before I met the narrator, who would enlighten me with their understanding and connection to the forest, trees were already present in the conceptual design of the project.
The Symbolic Camera
The symbolic camera was used as a tool in the conceptual stages of project development. It acted as a 'fake' camera for interviewing strangers, as a way of preparing myself for filming. It also reflects who I am and where I have been in my recent past. The text on the camera is in Japanese and English. The Japanese text relates to cherry blossoms, maple leaves, and using the camera to capture their images. This reflects how I found meaning through an interest in trees while I lived in Japan. The English text represents statements which people living in a foreign country might find relevant. They refer to being lost, having a lack of understanding or a disconnection with their environs. The camera itself is made up of old medicine boxes, which reflect my illness and the newfound health I found through the Japanese diet.
I interviewed the three contributors using a video camera and audio recorders. This would give the interviews excellent sound quality, and provide some basic shots for the film. The recordings from these interviews would be edited and used as voice-overs for the film. However, it later transpired that only one of the interviews would be used, as there was a lack of footage of two of the contributors outside the interview itself. Seeking to avoid a film which was interview-based, I chose to omit their stories altogether. I hope to make films about these beautiful people and their unique perspectives in the future.
The meaning of the symbolic camera
The symbolic camera is a representation of life in a foreign country. Though the statements written on the camera appear to have been translated in a foreign language, they are in fact utterly distinct from their foreign counterparts. For example, the statements in Japanese tend to be fairly innocuous references to flowers, maples and cherry blossoms, while the English statements are more related to being a foreigner. This reflects the difficulty of translation which is a prevailing subject within the wider discipline of Anthropology. The translation of lived experience to filmic representation, and the interpretation of film by an individual viewer, are two levels of translation which concern Visual Anthropology specifically. The symbolic camera reflects these difficulties through apparent mis-translation of meaning, from the troubled to the innocent.
This is also a reflection on cultures of pretence, which encourage a ‘stiff upper lip’ or a conformity to social norms of compliance, rather than protest. The ‘secret’ of the picture of Mount Fuji in the viewfinder, depicts the hidden nature of Japanese society. What is hidden would appear to be the true feelings of people, who instead present a masque of normalcy. The statements in Japanese explore certain aspects of Japanese culture, such as the penchant for flowers and leaf-watching, which centres around the Autumn leaves in November, and cherry blossoms in April (both of these events vary according to locale). That the English statements seek clarification on meaning and express problems being a foreigner, relates to my mixed feelings of living in Japan. The emphasis on aesthetics and natural beauty appears to cover a lack of empathy or personal connection amongst ordinary people, in an urban society which is obsessed with materiality and technology. Ironically, the symbolic camera’s basic, undecorated design with meaningful textual connections, sits in contrast to Japanese society as I experienced it.